For many, it’s the email in-box that we dread returning to most. After a week of vacation, how many unread emails do you expect in your in-box? 100? 500? 1000?
I believe that somewhere in the not-too-distant future is a world free of email, but in the meantime, I am completely befuddled as to how little time is invested in training of email best practices.
Obviously, this is a topic about which many books have been written, but below are three of my favorite standard email best practices that are all too infrequently practiced:
1. Make the subject line count. Mark Twain is credited with the observation that, “I would have sent you a shorter letter but I didn’t have time.” It’s hard to condense what you need to say in as few words as possible. And it can be really hard to get the message across in the space of a subject line. But it’s NOT ABOUT YOU. Help the receiver of your email know exactly what the content is about and what’s required of you. A decision? An opinion? Is it just an FYI? Make use of the subject line space as much as possible so the recipient doesn’t have to read 750 words of content to get the gist of your message and what it requires of them.
2. Remember what cc: stands for – Courtesy Copy. When you construct an email, anyone whose name is in the cc: field should not have to respond. The meaning of cc: is “I’m just copying you on this FYI.” This is significant for people who make use of rules in Outlook to manage their email. Theoretically, I should be able to defer emails in which I am simply cc’d and deal with them at my convenience — after I deal with those directly addressed to me.
3. If you must send a content-heavy email, make it digestible. In general, I take a less is more stand on most things, but sometimes a content-heavy email is necessary. However, if you do have a lot to say in an email, help the reader with thoughtful use of bullet points, bold or italicized key words, or numbered items. I remember a colleague who would always distinguish questions or anything that required a response from the rest of the text by underlining it. I currently work with someone who routinely sends content-heavy emails that are entirely readable because they are well-organized. It is evident that she has put considerable time into constructing them. However, that time is saved many times over because those of us receiving them have very few, if any, questions!
Email is going to be with us for awhile. So until we achieve that paradigmatic shift that liberates us all from the burden of ”managing” an inbox with 100s or 1000s of messages, let’s take some time to learn how to make better use of what we’ve got.